Farrell tempted to prolong 'brilliant' England venture

 

Andy Farrell says he is not thinking about life on the international circuit after the Six Nations Championship. "My remit has always been to work with England for the duration of this tournament and I have a very good job with Saracens that I enjoy doing," the great rugby league player and fast-developing union coach commented yesterday. "The future is irrelevant right now and none of us need distractions with a game against France coming up. These are long hours and long days: it's 24/7 and there are things that need doing."

This much can be said with certainty, though: Ian Ritchie, the new Rugby Football Union chief executive, is thinking a good deal about Farrell and his colleagues on the interim red-rose coaching staff – the caretaker head coach, Stuart Lancaster, and the forwards specialist, Graham Rowntree. There is a good deal of support for the idea that the three men should be retained en bloc once the current competition finishes and set the task of charting England's course towards the home World Cup in 2015. Much of that support comes from the players, one of whom said yesterday that the governing body would be "crazy" to lose any or all of them.

Farrell will indeed be back with Saracens, the Premiership champions, a couple of weeks from now, but as there will be no further international business on the agenda before the summer trip to South Africa, give or take the odd selection meeting, this is hardly an issue. Sarries are unlikely to prove obstructive if their man receives a second call from Twickenham, and it is equally clear that Farrell himself will be sorely tempted by any offer of a full-time position with England.

"I'm thoroughly enjoying this experience – it's absolutely brilliant," Farrell said. "It's so different to club coaching, where you're fully involved with a group of players for 46 weeks of the year. To pull together a core group of internationals in a short space of time and get the best out of them in a tournament like this is very challenging. I like to be realistic and I don't get emotional too often, but that game against Wales the weekend before last has to be one of the great experiences I've had in rugby. To hear people who have been going to Twickenham for years saying they hadn't experienced an atmosphere like it, and for us to put our best foot forward with the pressure on against a Wales team who were on fire... it's not something that comes round often."

True to his word, Farrell was sufficiently realistic to acknowledge that England's attacking game remains a few percentage points short of the optimum – a problem that must be rectified quickly, given the nature of the threat in Paris in four days' time.

"It's what we've been working on, both last week and this," he admitted. "But let's not get het up about it. Wales scored some great tries in the first two rounds, but they didn't create too many opportunities at Twickenham. If anything, we had more chances: three or four clear ones, I think.

"It's for us to educate our players, to show them how they could have done things better. I hope that when we play France, people will recognise the effect of that."

Interestingly, the coach was of the opinion that Brad Barritt, the hard-tackling Saracens centre who is by some distance the least talked-about member of England's new-look midfield axis, would be the key figure in any upturn in attacking performance. "Brad is central to many of the things we're about," Farrell remarked, "and I don't think I've seen any centre get the better of him in the three years I've been coaching. His defence is so good, it takes the gloss off the rest of his game. But he was made to be an international player, no doubt about it."

England will not confirm their line-up until Friday, but they will show loyalty to another Saracens player, Charlie Hodgson, by recalling him to the match-day squad at the expense of Toby Flood, the World Cup midfielder. Hodgson, a try-scorer against both Scotland and Italy, missed the Wales game because of injury, but performed well in his club's important Premiership victory over Northampton at the weekend. Flood, who played off the bench against Wales, has been released back to Leicester for their Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final with Bath.

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